Back to Global Conversations 3.11: Marcus Samuelsson, Top Chef, Restaurateur

In the aftermath of the pandemic and its devastating impact on the restaurant industry, Melissa Biggs Bradley sits down with top chef Marcus Samuelsson and discusses everything from his brand-new Bahamas restaurant to the foods of his Swedish childhood—and nothing’s off the table: his Ethiopian roots, home cooking, DEI, how a restaurant is like a circus and how food can foster community—and belonging. Plus, his favorite destination and cuisine for eating and inspiration and much more!

Episode Guide

It took us a long time — as in a year — to schedule an interview with today’s guest — but he had a great reason for keeping us waiting. Chef Marcus Sameulsson is the head of a group of restaurants stretching from Las Vegas to Miami to London and Sweden. He has appeared on Food Network favorites, Top Chef and Chopped; AND he’s the author of 4 cookbooks.

But in 2020, starting during the early months of the pandemic, he turned his well-known Harlem, New York restaurant the Red Rooster into a community kitchen, eventually serving thousands of free meals to anyone who stood in line. He did this in partnership with chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit dedicated to providing meals in the wake of disasters. On fast days, Marcus and his team, risking their own health, would hand out one thousand meals — one thousand meals — in just an hour and forty-five minutes.  

But amazing accomplishments are nothing new for Marcus, who was born in Ethiopia, separated from his family during a civil war, and adopted by a foreign family. He learned to cook from his Swedish grandmother. When he arrived in the States in his early 20s, he had just $300 — and within a few years, at 24, he’d become the youngest chef to ever receive a 3-star review from the New York Times. 

To talk with Marcus about food is to talk about the bigger journeys of life — expected and unexpected. He speaks like a husband, father, emigrant, successful entrepreneur, community leader, expert on food issues, and global citizen with global reach — all of which he is. And talking to him was well worth the wait.

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